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NFL Expanding to 40 Teams?

Many NFL insiders including Mike Florio believe 40 is inevitable, so where could we expect to see new franchises?


Speculation regarding NFL expansion has remained fairly static considering the league has been at 32 teams for two decades now. The last new franchise was the Houston Texans in 2002. The majority of professional leagues in the US have remained content with the easily divisible number of 32 teams, including the NFL. However, Roger Goodell has recently expressed his interest in further expansion. Goodell notably mentioned his desire to launch not just one team, but an entire division in Europe. With Florio believing that the ultimate goal is 40, the NFL will take one of two routes, domestic or international expansion. Let's explore both possibilities.


Domestic:


#1: Saint Louis, MO

Saint Louis has hosted 4 NFL franchises altogether, including the St. Louis All-Stars in 1923, the St. Louis Gunners in 1934, the St. Louis Cardinals from 1960-1987, then finally the St. Louis Rams from 1995-2015. The appettite for football is obvious as the XFL's St. Louis Battlehawks has dominated the league's attendance. St. Louis is regularly discussed as the first domestic city to receive an expansion team and could come as soon as within the next 2 years.


#2 San Antonio, TX

Though never having had an NFL franchise, San Antonio has been a relocation target for several franchises including the New Orleans Saints & San Diego Chargers. Currently SA remains the largest city in the US without an NFL franchise; in fact, SA only hosts one pro franchise in the NBA's Spurs. Quite shocking considering San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the country. In a football hungry state, a 3rd Texas franchise should be a no brainer considering FL, NY, & CA already host 3. The AAF's San Antonio Commanders & XFL's San Antonio Brahmas continue to prove the city's desire for pro football.


#3 Orlando, FL

Orlando is one of America's fastest growing markets and the passion surrounding UCF's rise shows the city's love for football. The War-on-I4 Rivalry between Orlando & Tampa's respective universities is something that would easily translate to the NFL. Concerns of oversaturating the FL market shouldn't be a concern as the population continues to boom. Plus, there's always the chance that the Jacksonville Jaguars relocate. Once again we can look to the AAF's Orlando Apollos & the XFL's Orlando Guardians to see the demand is there. Putting another franchise in a tourist town with great weather and no state income tax is music to the ears of NFL players. The Tampa Bay Bucs were able to assemble a super team thanks to that exact pitch.


#4 Birmingham, AL

In a state dominated by College Football, Birmingham stands out as a enticing option for the NFL. The success of the USFL's Birmingham Stallions has shown the city is fully capable of supporting a pro franchise. Aside from the Atlanta Falcons, the Deep South is shockingly devoid of NFL teams. The wide swath of territory unoccupied between the Falcons, Titans, & Saints is prime territory for an expansion team and one in which an Alabama franchise could dominate.


#5 Memphis, TN

Another favorite location for the Alt-Football leagues, Memphis represents an ideal location to round out the southern expansion of the NFL. Memphis is the 29th largest US city, ahead of other locations such as Baltimore, Kansas City, and Miami. Though the Titans lay claim as "Tennessee's team", an intra-state rivalry between the state's two largest cities provides ample growth opportunities for both franchises to force TN residents to choose a side.


#6 Austin, TX

America's 11th largest city is an increasingly desirable destination for pro franchises. Often overlooked in favor of Texas' other massive cities, the capital city is now coming into its own having received its first pro franchise with FC Austin of the MLS. Despite its size, its location between Dallas & San Antonio could cause too much market overlap. There's also the possibility of low attendance given the city has more in common with San Francisco than Dallas or Houston. Regardless, the citizens pride themselves on being active so having another fun event to attend each week would be well received.


#7 Portland, OR

This is a city that makes all the sense in the world; it has the fanbase, the market, and the desire for a pro franchise. Unfortunately the biggest thing holding it back is the city's lack of a stadium. Hiking taxes on an already overburdened populace to build a new stadium could prove extraordinarily unpopular if private money isn't brought in. Nonetheless, Portland provides a ready made rival for Seattle who remains fairly isolated from its fellow franchises.


#8 El Paso, TX

El Paso is a deceptively large city that most rarely consider when examining NFL expansion cities. The city has no pro sports teams & only UTEP in terms of college sports. At first glance this would suggest a lack of enthusiasm for a pro team, however, El Paso provides a gateway to Mexico that is extremely appealing to Roger Goodell. Situated a stone's throw across the border is Cuidad Juarez, a city twice the size of El Paso. The inroads the NFL has made in Mexico shows that El Paso could very well serve as the launching pad for further Mexican market penetration. It's also far enough away from any other Texas franchises to avoid direct competition.



Honorable Mentions:


San Diego, CA - The Chargers former home is one of the top 10 largest cities in the US. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Chargers were notoriously poorly attended. The only reason they're not included in my top 8 is because of how likely it is the Chargers leave LA to return to San Diego in the future.


Oakland, CA - It's still too soon to stick a new team in Oakland where the Raiders called home for most of their existence. The possibility of a return to Oakland remains considering they've done it before. Oakland remains firmly Raiders fans and a new franchise likely wouldn't do much to change that.


Salt Lake City, UT - SLC hosts the Utah Jazz and in a state with a rich CFB tradition, an NFL team could prove very successful. Closing the geographic gap between Denver and Vegas could prove enticing enough to knock one of the cities ranked above, out of the top 8.


Columbus, OH - Smack between the Bengals & the Browns is Columbus, a city larger than both of the former. Though the Buckeyes own Columbus, there may be room for a third Ohio franchise and the city already hosts the NHL's Bluejackets. Cincy is already treated as little brother in OH, how well received would a Columbus team be?


Oklahoma City, OK - The largest city in a football crazed state. Home of the NBA's Thunder already, OKC is often amongst the rumored expansion candidates. Despite being a primarily CFB dominant state, Oklahoma has expressed interest in attracting an NFL franchise. The biggest drawback for OKC is that Oklahoma is undoubtedly Cowboys country.




Divisional Structure:


NFC East: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Commanders, Memphis, Dallas Cowboys


NFC North: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis


NFC South: Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Austin


NFC West: Seattle Seahawks, Portland, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals


AFC East: New England Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Orlando, Miami Dolphins


AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts


AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Birmingham, Houston Texans, San Antonio


AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, El Paso, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers



International Expansion:


#1 London, United Kingdom

The most obvious candidate for international expansion has been the city Goodell & the NFL have been pushing for 15 years, London. The Jaguars have served as the de facto London team playing a game there every year since 2013. The Jags owner, Shad Khan, has considered moving the team to London previously & if any team were to relocate next it would likely be Jacksonville.


#2 London, United Kingdom

Again? Absolutely. London won't just host one NFL franchise, but almost certainly two. Home base for the teams will likely see a team in Northwest London playing at Wembley and a team in North London playing at Tottenham. These two stadiums have played host to all but 3 games thus far, the 3 being hosted at the RFU Twickenham Stadium in Southwest London. With the plethora of Premier League teams located within London, don't be shocked if the NFL decided to put 3 or even 4 teams in the metro area.


#3 Toronto, Canada

Home of the Bills "Toronto Series" from 2008-13, Toronto is no stranger to the NFL. With American franchises already in Toronto from the NBA, NHL, MLB, & MLS, the NFL is the lone holdout. If/when the NFL does launch in Canada, Toronto will have first dibs. A cross border rivalry with the Bills will be great for igniting interest. Both the Carolina Panthers & Cincinnati Bengals' leases end in the next few years and Toronto is expected to be a frontrunner for a franchise looking to relocate. Roadblocks include potential protectionist legislation from the Canadian government intended to protect the CFL.


#4 Mexico City, Mexico

The largest city in North America has shown an insatiable appettite for NFL football thanks to sellouts over 75K at every NFL Mexico game. Mexico City is another opportunity to start two franchises in the same foreign city. Whether the NFL can navigate strained relations between the US & Mexico as well as ensure the safety of players and their families has always been a lingering question. Many players may be hesitant to play in a country where they don't speak the language also. If concerns can be alleviated then expect at least one franchise in Mexico City by 2035.


#5 Montreal, Canada

France isn't quite ready for an NFL franchise, but is French Canada? The numbers certainly suggest so! Montreal is home to an NHL & CFL team & was previously home to an MLB team. The city is frequently mentioned as an expansion candidate for the NBA & MLB, so why not the NFL? Montreal would be the 2nd most northerly team in North America below only Seattle, though significantly colder. Montreal does have the Olympic Stadium dome which previously housed the WLAF Montreal Machine in the early 90s, an NFL sponsored spring league team. The Machine averaged 32K fans facing spring league competition; scale those numbers up for a proper NFL team and you have a serious fanbase. The same obstacles for Toronto apply for Montreal though.


#6 Munich, Germany

The last bastion of the German Football League, unspoiled by the European League of Football, is Munich. So naturally the NFL should move in to capture the market. The NFL's first game in Germany last year was a smashing success with nearly 70K in attendance. NFL Europe wasn't a hit everywhere but it certainly was in Germany. Likely due to a heavy presence of American military in Germany for the last 80 years, football has permeated the culture there to a degree unlike other European countries. With 2 more games set to be played in Germany this year, we'll have a better snapshot of market performance.


#7 Dusseldorf, Germany

With Goodell's desire to place an entire division in Europe, the most surefire location left is a relic from the NFL Europe days: Dusseldorf. The Rhein Fire were arguably the most enthusiastic fanbase in the entire league; so much so, that the current ELF team bought the naming rights to the Rhein Fire to keep continuity. Germany may host several NFL teams down the road but a return to Dusseldorf would be met with open arms.


#8 Tijuana, Mexico

Perhaps the solution to the Chargers problem is not moving back to San Diego, but instead hopping the fence to Tijuana? As the second largest city in Mexico and part of the San Diego metro area, Tijuana provides a less intimidating journey for American fans than Mexico City. The metro area is over 5m strong and with a reinvigorated franchise embracing a south of the border identity, the Chargers may yet find their fanbase. Travel and saftey concerns will always be an issue with cross-border athletics; however, with a conurbation this integrated, it should alleviate most problems.


Honorable Mentions:


Monterrey, Mexico - Widely considered the safest major Mexican city, Monterrey is a bustling tech and business hub not far from the Texas border. The Monterrey metro region comprises over 5m residents. Putting a team here would bridge the sizeable gap between a proposed San Antonio team and one in Mexico City. The city has hosted exhibition games before but not since the 60s. Mexico has the largest number of NFL fans outside the US, naturally Monterrey should make the shortlist.


Dublin, Ireland - Host of the Emerald Isle Classic for CFB, Dublin is no stranger to American football. With Croke Park being sufficiently big to host an NFL team, the only question remains, will the Irish show up to support it? The collegiate games fail to provide an adequate judge of support given that the majority of fans were Americans traveling with their team.


Edinburgh, Scotland - The Scottish Claymores of the NFL Europe paved the way for a franchise to call Scotland home. Though still not as popular in Scotland as it is in England, the NFL may be wise in re-developing an English vs Scottish NFL rivalry as a way to garner interest. The Claymores consistently attracted fans north of 11K, as good as many Scottish Premier League teams, but that's not nearly enough to justify a franchise yet.


Frankfurt, Germany - Home of the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe notoriety, an ELF team still plays under the name due to its popularity. Frankfurt admittedly should be on the list of 8 ahead of Munich given the history and continued relevence. Why the NFL has chosen to focus instead on Munich I'm not sure, but hopefully the league will give Frankfurt its due in time.


Vancouver, Canada - Vancouver is an odd situation. On paper, it's a big market with ample opportunity to create a rivalry with neighboring Seattle. The BC Lions of the CFL has been the city staple for football since the 50s. Bringing an NFL franchise in to compete could backfire both with the public and with local legislators. The NHL & MLS have a foothold in the market but the NBA flopped with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Vancouver is also one of the worlds most expensive places to live, not exactly ideal in a high tax environment either.

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